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Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Crazy World of Chickens

I have always wanted chickens.  This desire remained buried for decades, until we stopped moving about.  It was a revelation that surprised no one, except my father, who somehow missed the fact that I was a dirt digging, outdoor loving, fishing, hunting, shooting kind of girl.  I'm still trying to figure that one out.  But I digress.

Back to the chickens.

As SOON as we found out we were moving to an area I could actually not only HAVE chickens, but have as MANY chickens as I wanted, I wasted no time!  We were still two months from moving, but I was going to start my first coop AND order my first pullets. (I'm just not a fan of the fluffy butt stage, but I'll get more to that later.)  My thought was, if I was able to keep a few birds alive, through a Nebraska winter, I could manage more later.

I set out to find plans for my perfect starter coop.  After reading and researching, I knew what I DID'T want, which is one of those assemble it your self coops from the local pet/seed/hardware store.  Nope.  They were ALL too small, too poorly built, had no ventilation, and NO predator security.  Sometime the wrong tools will set you up for failure before you even begin. So that route was out.

So I continued my search.  I came across an internet site with plans for a cute little coop that touted that it held 4 birds, was easy to build, relatively inexpensive, and easily accessible for clean up.  It WAS adorable, so I ordered it and began building it immediately!  The City Biddy seemed to be JUST what I was looking for.  It took three weeks to build, and many, many trips to the hardware store, which luckily, was just 10 minutes down the road. Building in the driveway certainly aroused the attention of my golf course living, home association, retiree neighborhood.  Many of whom were shocked and amazed that a woman knew how to use power tools.  ::Sigh::

The plans had many critical errors in them, and when the designers were told of these errors, they simply stopped answering my emails.  So IF you choose this plan, be aware of the errors in measurements.  It is a cute coop.  It is ridiculously heavy.  It is too small for 4 birds,  and I would change many things about it. And for it's size cost and arm and a leg, less than 14 square feet and $500.   Would I build it again? NO WAY.  But it was a great learning experience towards the giant coop that would follow 6 months later.

So fast forward to the big move.  Did I mention this was heavy?  We couldn't get it into the UHaul truck as the ramp was 4 inches too narrow.  (It must have been designed by the man who designed my truck, which is 4 inches too narrow to fit a full sheet of plywood.)  We hastily cut plywood to lay over the ramp to enlarge it, and with GREAT effort, in it went. It looked SO large at the old house, until we unloaded it here.

Birds were arriving in two weeks.  Where to set it up became an almost daily game.  The tiny wheels made it difficult to move around a country lawn, but with our trusty plywood tracks, we had it traveling all over the property.  We also went through several incarnations of runs before we settled on taking apart two dog kennels and combining them with zip ties, and covering them with fiberglass panels. This certainly worked, but had major flaws.  Like I said, the coop was too small.  Sadly, one of the girls was taken by either a loose dog or a fox one afternoon, so the coop was down to three, which was still small, but much better.  The run was only 44 inches high, which led to access issues.
  However, by the time I realized how much of a pain the little coop was.  I had much bigger plans in mind!

By early December I was sure I could do this and had picked up on the changes I needed to make. Again I started listing what I wanted and didn't want in a permanent coop and run. I also needed to get the ball rolling before my rolling green hills and soft earth turned into this,
or EVERYTHING would have to wait for April, which brings the wet and the heat.

I knew I wanted a coop large enough to walk into.  No more stooping, or kneeling, crawling or bending to try to build, chase a bird, scoop poop,  or change out food/water.  I couldn't stand that anymore.  It had to be secure, protect from the elements (and critters), have a poop board, large nesting area and be easily attached to a secure run.  PLUS, it had to look nice :)

The search was on.  After many hours, nay days, I found exactly what I was looking for.  Tried and true plan, sound theory, I took the plunge and ordered the book Fresh-Air Poultry Houses.

It's a reprint of a 100 year old book.  It contains several poultry houses and the principles of how each one works, based on fluid dynamics. It does not, per se, have "plans".  This book was written before big box lumber yards and now commonly used stick lumber.  It does have great drawings and measurements. Using basic tools and skills, you can build one of these.  I will say that they all rely on specific ratios to keep the birds warm and cool, so while you can change the sizes of the coops (to a point), you cannot change the ratios.

I decided on the Woods Style coop.

As you can see, I drew.  I scrubbed, figured, crunched numbers, made lists, and generally made a mess of my book.  It was then time to venture to the county planning office.  Yes, my county requires a permit for any structure of a certain size.  Anything over 100 square feet, however, not only required a permit, but inspections and blueprints.  But for a chicken coop?  Well, they honestly didn't know.  It didn't have plumbing or electricity, but it was permanent. Hmmm... to be on the safe side, we all agreed to a permit.  But at 96 square feet, detailed blueprints definitely weren't needed.  That was in mid-December.

Now for the home owner's association architectural board.  "Wait! I thought you were out in the country?!" you chime.  Yes I am, BUT I also live in a group of houses that have a loose set of covenants.  I am fine with them.  The committee is there to protect everyone's view. Since many were away on vacation, it took until January for them to get back to me, but they were fine with the style, and the color was up to me! I went with Valspar's True Teal, an electric teal blue. (The online swatch doesn't come close.)

My goal was to be done by May1st. I put in my order for my new pullets, and started looking at paint swatches!  Keep in mind I was still moving into a new house and all that entails.  This was FAR from my ONLY project, but it was the biggest.  I made my lists and headed to my local hardware and lumber store, which was 1 hour and 12 minutes away.  I was there so often in the upcoming months that I was treated like visiting royalty every time.  Employees went out of their way to help me and get weekly updates on the little teal coop.

Winter smacked us in the head with a vengeance in November.  We fell far below normal and winds and temperatures hit 0' months before schedule.  I was worried what I would be up against in January, February, and March.  But I had a deadline looming. So I was going to have to give it a whirl.

Next time.... the build begins.

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